Reclaiming Childhood Innocence in Foster Care

Fighting against expectations on the development of kids in foster care can help them on their journey of reclaiming childhood innocence.

A Recent Observation

A couple weeks ago, our sweet 6 year old girl played in the dirt while her brother played baseball. She made a “little-while friend” and the two created an elaborate storyline to their play including outer space and superheroes. By the end of the game, I’m confident every single inch of her was covered in dirt. I found myself caught up watching them for a while and some things stood out to me. 

Making “dirt angels”.
Judging Developmental Needs

I’ve been challenging my parenting recently for several reasons. I recently finished the book “Let Them Be Kids” by Jessica Smartt and its message was forefront in my mind as I watched our girl play in the dirt.  The book was a large part of it, but I had picked it because I was realizing how many “grown up” expectations I felt like I was putting on our kids. One unexpected challenge of taking our first placement is figuring out where each child is developmentally. Sure, we knew the ages being placed in our care. However, a kid’s development at any age can vary significantly even without adding trauma and other factors. 

The day our kiddos arrived, they came with McDonalds. Could our 15 month old feed himself chicken nuggets? We were going to find out! (Surprise! He was an eating expert!) A couple months later we were at a friend’s house and our oldest two wanted to ride the kids bike. Could they ride without training wheels? We were going to find out! (Surprise! They were pros!) These are simple examples, but I was also seeing this in more complex ways. What expectations do I have about how self aware the kids are? Do they know their sensory needs? Can they recognize and express how they feel? They have been with us 15 months now and I’m still figuring this out. It’s hard not to make assumptions either. They might be on target for their age in one area, but there are other areas that are underdeveloped. 

Changing Our Assumptions

We as parents need to be gentle with how we look at other kids. I think of our Sunday church routine for our family. The two littles are nursery age, but our two older kiddos come into service with us for announcements and worship before being called back to kids’ church. They are currently 6 & 7 years old. Typically, I think by this age most kids are either standing with their parents during worship songs or maybe sitting and coloring / drawing. However, until very recently both kiddos wanted to be held by my husband and I during this time. Do I technically think they are “too old” for this? Kind of. Will I continue to hold them for as long as they want it? Absolutely.

Do I think others maybe see us and think they are too old to be held or just question it internally? Maybe. What those people don’t know though is that those kids are “one year old” in our family. We are building connections and learning to trust. So in a similar way that a one year old wants to be held for safety and connection to their parents, so do our 6 and 7 year old kids. 

Over the last month I’ve noticed our oldest has stopped asking to be held and has just stood with us during worship. While I miss that connection time with him, I also see it as a win. He has had that connection need met with us and has now developed past it to a more age-appropriate stage. Both the baseball game and church examples challenge me to extend grace and compassion to other parents and their kids. We don’t know the history behind the behavior. Our kids needed that connection time with my husband and I during church just like our girl needed that free and innocent play at the baseball game. 

Different baseball game. Still playing in dirt.
The Joy of Watching Kids be Kids

I couldn’t help but sit in awe as I watched the two kids play. The little boy was likely a couple years younger than our 6 year old. Our girl is naturally a “mother hen” and loves to play with and entertain younger kiddos, but this was different. He matched her outgoing personality and creativity and they played off each other’s silliness. At one point his grown-up came over and was watching him. “He’s never met a stranger”, she joked to me. The two were kindred spirits. 

I don’t know what other adults at that game were thinking when watching our girl play with that boy. I honestly feel a bit defensive about it. Were they looking down on our girl covered in dirt? Did they think she was too old to be acting that way? Were they annoyed by the loud and weird voices she was using on her imaginative space mission? 

If this event had occurred a couple months earlier, I’m not confident I would have embraced it the same way. I may have told her not to go in the dirt pile. Might have relied on her more to play with her younger siblings to help me instead of giving her the freedom to play independently. I could have drawn the line before she laid down in the dirt and started making “dirt angels”. I may have let it all happen, but would have been annoyed that we had to add another shower that evening’s routine. I’m glad it happened when it did. In that moment I was able to sit and tear up at the pure joy our girl was experiencing by just being a kid. 

More dirt. Our kids really love dirt.
Considering Time Lost

I get so emotional over the innocence of it all. The trauma of displacement and separation touches every kid in the foster care system. The reasons and circumstances vary significantly, but the reality is that they have lost a piece of that innocence that comes with childhood. Children should be immune to the harsh realities and weight of adulthood and adult problems. However, their placement in the system means that adult problems, adult mistakes, or adult decisions have crossed over and affected that childhood bubble. 

While I watched our girl play, I saw a piece of that innocence reclaimed. I watched her without worry, witnessed her dreaming, felt her imagination, and experienced her joy. I’ve heard and seen the fallout of the trauma both before and after her involvement in the system. But in that moment I saw the type of childhood she should have had all along and I couldn’t help but both grieve for what she’s lost and celebrate what still can be. 


1 thought on “Reclaiming Childhood Innocence in Foster Care”

  1. I love your perspective, thank you first of all for fostering but also educating those of us who have never fostered children.

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